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Advertising People on the Move ESI Media

ESI Media managing director Jon O'Donnell departs


By John McCarthy, Opinion Editor

January 13, 2020 | 4 min read

Jon O'Donnell, managing director of ESI Media, the commercial wing of the Independent and Evening Standard, has announced his departure from the business after helping shape its distribution model over the last 11 years.

ESI Media

Jon O'Donnell departs ESI Media

The Independent and the Evening Standard have recently made US pushes in line with the 2020 election with the hopes of monetising a more global audience. O'Donnell, a recognisable name in London ad circles, has departed after a supposed ‘tightening’ of the UK ad market which the company last year blamed for a £11.5m pre-tax loss.

O'Donnell joined the company in 2008 as deputy commercial director before stepping up to the lead role in 2010 and has been key in building the free distribution model and digital expansion. He oversaw the acquisition of the Independent and the launch of The i newspaper, which now resides with DMGT.

O'Donnell said: "I have been privileged to work with some incredibly talented people during my time at ESI Media, and together we achieved some extraordinary things. Driven by a fantastic culture, I am incredibly proud of the strong commercial business we built and I wish them every success for the future."

To make up for the ad slump, ESI Media has been creative in how it attracts spend. Four months ago it held a challenge to drive creativity in print, complete with website takeover and vendor activation. As well as inspiring some strong work, the campaign helped orientate brands with the brand, it trained them in working with its ad formats. Valspar won the creative brief with a spread selling the colour palletes of new PM Boris Johnson, a timely piece of news-jacking.

Mike Soutar, former chairman and founder of Shortlist (now Stylist) joined ESI Media as CEO three months ago, and will take up O'Donnell's responsibilities while a replacement is sought. Soutar helped build the distribution strategy at Shortlist and has a keen understanding of how to help the Evening Standard expand its footprint beyond London.

Soutar added: "I've enjoyed working with Jon over the last couple of months since I joined the business. He is a talented and popular executive and he has contributed so much to the success of ESI over the last decade. On behalf of everyone here I'd like to thank him for his hard work and wish him the very best of luck with his future plans."

The title recently made cuts and spoke of knitting digital and print teams closer on a sales and editorial front. ESI Media claims a cross-platform UK reach of 24.5m adults. The Evening Standard is read by 2.4m people every day, meanwhile, the Independent boasts a reported 90m global unique browsers a month.

In April 2019, it hired Andy Morley as chief digital revenue officer, tasking him with plugging the revenue gap by getting the most out of ESI's growing digital presence around the world. The tech-minded exec was to apply his learnings from Emap, The Telegraph, Grapeshot Amobee and Telaria.

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